In 2004, the relatively unknown filmmaker Guillermo del Toro released a film adaptation of Mike Mignola’s underground comic “Hellboy.” The film received a majority of good reviews and the general consensus was that it was a very fun albeit somewhat forgettable movie featuring a career performance by its lead actor Ron Perlman. In 2006 the under-the-radar director became the hottest auteur with the release of his historical, fantasy masterpiece “Pan’s Labyrinth.” His newest film is the big-budget sequel “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” and is a lot of fun, but unfortunately has distinct construction issues.
The first film served as an introductory piece on the characters of the demon Hellboy (Perlman) and his supernatural cohorts Abe Sapien (Played by Doug Jones in the first, although voiced by David Hyde Pierce – in the sequel Jones was able to voice his character) and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). Hellboy is a large, satirical demon who desires to be normal and thus tries to keep his unnatural horns at a short cut. He is aided by Abe, a fish-man with clairvoyant hands and Liz, the fiery (literally) love of his life. In this sequel, all the characters are back and in much better form than the first piece.
The story of “Hellboy II” is a classic fantasy tale: The villainous Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) breaks an ancient truce between his race of elves and humanity. As the age of humans rises, the elves become secluded and Nuada goes into hiding. It is now present day, and Nuada has returned to achieve that archaic crown the can rule the indestructible golden army that once decimated our kind. Enter our hero Hellboy who is the only one who can stop the heartless prince and his unstoppable force.
The story is sufficiently strong and works well on many levels. Sadly, the last half hour of the film is hopelessly devoid of a deserved ending. The golden army is set up to be a horrible force that cannot be stopped and their introduction, fight sequence, and eventual take-down is all a bit underwhelming. The actors are all performing wonderfully while the weak script drives itself off the edge into a truly bad ending.
Also unsuccessful are many of the action sequences throughout. Each one starts quite abruptly, and ends awkwardly. With the exception of one particularly superior scene involving our big red hero and a giant forest monster, the rest just feel too inopportune. Hellboy as a character is identifiable as weakened by his yearning to be accepted by humanity and while it is fun to see a movie hero win every single fight, it isn’t necessarily comforting.
One thing that the script does succeed in is its use of comedy. There were comedic elements in the first movie but this one is a heck of a lot funnier, especially due to the wondrous talents of the cast. At some points, you may actually bust a gut.
However, the real treat of the film is its excellent characterization. Hellboy and his pals are joined by the psychic Johann Krauss (voiced by “Family Guy” creator and voice actor Seth McFarlane). Krauss is an instant classic character, and in fact deserves a film of his own. McFarlane adds a delectable voice to the mechanical, ectoplasmic German and he’ll be the reason you might end up loving the film.
The three other heroes are wonderful as well. Perlman is consistently outperforming himself in every role and deserves the oft-mentioned title of the Lon Chaney of our time. His Hellboy is pure fantastical humor, fun, and action blended by a superior performance. Selma Blair really stepped up her game for the sequel, adding so much more to her character who was a bit one-note in the first installment. Also welcoming is the voice of Doug Jones along with the body of Doug Jones as Abe Sapien. The character regrettably has a pointless relationship that develops with Nuada’s sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton). However, Jones is brilliant in the part and one can’t help but wonder what executive made the wrong decision to not let him do the voice in the first movie.
While his script is a bit muddled, Del Toro’s direction is spectacular. He creates an excellently original vision that tantalizes the eye and connects eerily with the audience. He’s one of our best directors working right now; showing sparks of Spielbergian construction and Gilliam-esque innovation. The really exciting part about watching “Hellboy II” is the anticipation of Del Toro’s upcoming dual workings of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” If he can bring blazingly inventive characters and styles to the tale of Bilbo Baggins that he has with Mignola’s story one can’t help but jump for joy and count the days until its premiere.
Overall, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is a technical marvel and generally a lot of fun. The characters are superb, as are the actors in their career-high parts. It would have been great to see a film with a stronger script but in many some ways this probably works much better as a fun, run of the mill popcorn pleaser. If you find yourself missing out on “The Dark Knight” this weekend, this is not a bad second choice.